...However, I was never able to experience this sense of growing community because, like most teachers, I have been programmed to divide learning into yearly or monthly episodes. The blogging community begins in September, it grows until June, and then gets deleted because September will bring another batch of students and another community.
.....Last June, ten of my former students asked to remain part of the community. They had grown so attached to their class blogging community that they asked me not to shut it down and to give them access to the new community that they knew I would be building with my new grade eights in September. I was thrilled that they wanted to remain in the community. I knew that as grade nine students, having already gone through the grade eight programme, they would greatly enhance the experience for their younger friends.
...And yet, I chose to shut down the community and restrict access to the new one. For the past three years, in fact, I have been creating communities only to dismantle them every June.
I struggled with much the same crisis. And I am only now, halfway through the following school year, approaching a way to effectively and appropriately deal with this, as a teacher of third grade bloggers. I started by letting my kids from last year blog through the summer, with permission from their parents. When the new school year started I changed the passwords on their blogs, so they couldn't add content. We of course talked about this many times as the year was ending (there were pleas and tears), but I figured, as Konrad did, that it was time to move on to another group. One difference was that I left their blogs alone, and set up a new site for this year's class. So you could visit their old blogs, but it was kind of like reading a book - there was no life there, no heartbeat of writing...
Just last week I offered to let the kids from last year back on to roomtwelve.com - as alumni - and they can blog again. With parent permission, of course. I have heard from four, and they are now part of a new class, "Alumni". I still will approve every word they write on their blogs and every word in every comment sent to them - and edit, within reason, and offer behind the scenes feedback on writing that needs to be improved. The first thing I set up for them on their new blogs was a link to their blog from last year.
This was complicated. I'm not their teacher anymore, and I had to check with their teachers from this year to be sure it was OK with them. More issues will come up, I'm sure.
I am a saver, an archiver, especially with Internet stuff. For whatever reason, I save almost everything I have had a hand in. I have archived versions of my school's home page over the last dozen years. I've archived Louis Schmier's Random Thoughts, going back to 1993. The student newsletter (now a podcast available on iTunes - there is a blog of course) is archived back to 1994. I even have an email I posted to Ednet in 1994, encouraging teachers to create web pages for their schools (ohmygosh). I'll post it when I get the nerve - it's a little embarrassing to look at these days...
But the work I feel most protective of and will work the hardest to maintain is the writing of my students - on the Internet. This is real stuff, for a worldwide audience - and sometimes that worldwide audience is involved in that writing. The best writing I have ever seen in 24 years of teaching third graders is from the blog from the 2005-06 school year. I am happy to welcome those kids back.
Konrad closes I Will Be a Gardener with this:
I feel that like an architect or an engineer, I have been too preoccupied with the act of building communities and have not paid as much attention to sustaining them and giving them the nourishment they need to grow. Clay Shirky says that "To create an environment conducive to real community, you will have to operate more like a gardener than an architect." I have been an architect for too long. Now, I will be a gardener.
It's definitely worth a read.